French supermarket sells ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables

A supermarket chain in France has been selling ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables to customers at a discounted rate to highlight the problem of food waste and provide customers with a cheaper shopping alternative.

Launched by Intermarché in the city of Provins following the news that 300 million tonnes of food are wasted every year and that fruit and vegetable crops around the world are frequently not harvested or do not leave the farm after failing to meet tough quality controls on physical appearance imposed by retailers, the campaign, entitled ‘Les fruits etc légumes moches’ (Ugly/Inglorious fruit and vegetables), saw the supermarket sell ‘ugly’ or ‘inglorious’ fruit and vegetables at a 30 per cent discount (compared to their 'more beautiful' counterparts).

To help highlight the campaign to shoppers, posters were put up across the shop highlighting that a ‘hideous orange makes beautiful juice’ and that an ‘ugly carrot’ can be used in soup.

Customers were also asked to blind taste orange juice made from standard oranges and ‘ugly’ oranges and see if they could discern any difference in flavour. The same taste test was also undertaken for pressed carrot soup. According to the supermarket, customers said that they tasted the same.

Intermarché added that the campaign was a 'successs' as, in the first three days of the campaign, 100 per cent of the 600 pounds (lbs) of carrots, apples and oranges was sold, and footfall traffic increased by 24 per cent.

The supermarket has said that it is now looking at rolling the campaign across all its stores in France.

British shoppers would buy imperfect produce

It is thought that a similar campaign could be popular in Britain. Speaking to Resource, Niki Charalampopoulou, Managing Director for anti food waste campaigners Feeding the 5000, said: "Intermarche is one of many European supermarkets that have recently risen up to the ugly fruit and veg challenge. But this initiative should just be the beginning. Our experience working with farmers across the globe shows that they are often forced to waste 20-40 per cent and sometimes even the entirety of their crop because it does not fit strict retail specifications.

"Recent experience in the UK shows that selling wonky fruit and veg has enormous potential and is one of the easiest ways of dramatically reducing food waste in the supply chain. In 2012 alone, 300000 tonnes of wonky fruit and veg were saved from being wasted due to UK retailers temporarily relaxing their cosmetic standards because of bad weather. Wonky fruit and veg is the fastest growing sector in the UK fresh produce market according to the British Retail Consortium. What the latest initiative from Intermarche shows is that marketing ‘imperfect’ fruit and vegetables makes perfect sense from an environmental and economic point of view. And the public love it too." 

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers last year released a report calling on commercial buyers to stop rejecting imperfect looking food after finding that 80 per cent of British shoppers would buy fruit and vegetables that are ‘not perfect in shape or colour’.

According to the Institution’s survey, just 376 of the 2007 people surveyed (less than 20 per cent) said they would only buy ‘perfect looking produce'.

Other findings from the survey included:                                          

  • 45 per cent of people said that the appearance of fruit and vegetables doesn’t matter;
  • 26 per cent of people said they would buy the cheapest option; and
  • 10 per cent said they would actively choose imperfect looking produce.

Watch a video about the ‘ugly fruit’ campaign or find out more about the problems of food waste